Integrity commissioner called for NOTL code of conduct review

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

NOTL town logo

NOTL town logo

Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of four municipalities that has lost their integrity commissioner to the Toronto District School Board.

Suzanne Craig served her last day serving the Niagara municipalities Monday in order to take the full-time position.

She was also integrity commissioner for St. Catharines, West Lincoln and Fort Erie, along with cities outside of Niagara including Vaughan, Barrie and Orillia.

Lord Mayor Pat Darte said she was not on a retainer to NOTL - she was hired when the town needed her, and paid an hourly rate. Her resignation means that if NOTL has need of an integrity commissioner in the future, the town will go through the process of finding someone else.

The role of a municipal integrity commissioner is to conduct independent and consistent investigations into complaints about council code of conduct violations and provide resolutions.

The town hired Suzanne Craig a year ago to review complaints against Councillors Martin Mazza and Paolo Miele under Bill 168, the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the town’s Code of Conduct bylaw.

The investigation followed a series of complaints by Niagara-on-the-Lake staff about the behaviour of two councillors, and resulted in an informal, confidential settlement, with her decision that the actions of the two councillors did not breach Bill 168. Her report also said there were “significant enough issues” for settlement terms, and suggested changes to the town’s Code of Conduct for council members.

She found there were gaps in the town’s Code of Conduct relating to the protocol for the filing of complaints by staff.

She said the town's Code of Conduct did not provide "clear parameters" within which to conduct an investigation.

“Most municipal Codes of Conduct contain a code protocol that sets out the process to be followed when an allegation of contravention is brought forward," her report to council said.

She was a big help to the town throughout the process - very understanding and professional, said Darte.

Mazza said dealing with the integrity commissioner - both as a person and because of her position - initially made him nervous, but he quickly became comfortable working with Craig.

"She was very professional and very thorough, and it was obvious she is a person of integrity," he said.

"Of course I have a biased opinion - her decision was what I was looking for - but I thought she did a great job."

In October, Darte appointed a nine-member working group that includes Mazza and councillors Jamie King and Betty Disero, three town staff and three residents, to look at improving the Code of Conduct, following the recommendations made by Craig in her report.

At the time the committee was formed, Coun. Paolo Miele requested Craig be asked to participate in the working group meetings, at her rate of $150 an hour. Council instead decided to call on her as a consultant if needed.

Darte says Craig has called since to see how the work was progressing, and he is assuming she will continue to be available to help with the Code of Conduct review if necessary.

Craig will start her new role April 4 at the Toronto school board — the first school board in Ontario to create an independent office of an integrity commissioner.

The board said in a news release Craig will work to ensure conduct by trustees is held to the “highest standards of accountability and transparency.”

With files from Karena Walter and Suzanne Mason 

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